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How To Avoid Online Real Estate Scams During Home-Hunting

Cheapest House In San Francisco (1)

Source: SFMLS/Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Realty / Estately

Hunting for a new home is an arduous process, no matter if you’re looking to rent or buy. One of the greatest challenges is dodging real estate scams. 

In 2020, with the pandemic making in-person viewings and transactions difficult, online real estate fraud has been booming. A staggering 43% of renters have come across fake listings, and more than 5 million people lost money to real estate scams. 

Here’s what you can do to stay safe on your home hunt – and leave scammers out in the cold. 

Hire an Agent

The most straightforward way to avoid scams is to entrust your home-hunt to a reliable realtor. This is doubly important if you’re moving to a place you don’t know well yourself.

An experienced buyers’ agent helps you sort the wheat from the chaff when it comes to listings. They keep up with the latest methods scammers use to try and trick people out of their cash. 

Give the Listing a Reality Check

When you come across an amazing listing, you should go through a scam checklist. If it’s too good to be true – with regard to location, price, size, and amenities – it probably is. 

Blurry photos, contradictory information, numerous grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, and all-caps phrases are hallmarks of a scam. Keep an eye out for pictures that don’t match the floor plan – or each other.

An excellent way of verifying a listing is to run the text and pictures through a reverse Google search. Many scammers these days re-use texts or copy listings from other pages. 

Never Be Pressured into Transferring Money 

Many scams rely on high-pressure sales tactics. 

They urge you to seize the chance before someone else does. Your fear of missing out on a once-in-a-lifetime offer is their greatest asset.

If a listing is pushy from the get-go, or if the person you contact wants you to send money or personal information before you’ve even seen the property, back away. 

Be especially wary of wire transfers without solid verification. 

Be Sure to See the Property 

Scammers typically won’t allow you to see the property, or talk to the owner or agent in person. Common excuses are that they live abroad, are in the military, or work in foreign aid.

They may ask for a fee for a property showing – which, of course, then never happens. 

At the very least, insist on a virtual walk-through of a potential new home. 

Verify the Listing Agent and Owner

Fraudsters usually insist on doing business only via email or online platforms, and balk at giving you contact details. 

Legitimate realtors have business cards proudly displaying verifiable professional license numbers. They’ll have offices, a functional website, and a business phone number. 

Similarly, verify the owner of the property – especially if you’re renting from them directly. Ask them to prove ownership and their right to let. Look up who is paying taxes on the place. The County Recorder can tell you of any notices filed on the property – such as a foreclosure.

Finally, be suspicious if neither agent nor owner asks you for any in-depth information about yourself. 

Final Thoughts

Real estate online scams are a serious threat when you’re home-hunting. By vetting tempting listings, and hiring an agent, you can hold onto your money – until you find your perfect, real, new home.